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participatory theater

Aaron Landsman on Participation And Process

Aaron Landsman. Credit Mallory Catlett.

Aaron Landsman. Credit Mallory Catlett.

Aaron Landsman is a theatre artist in New York City who works with theatrical and found spaces and texts. He is a Princeton Arts Fellow, a playwright-in-residence at Abrons Arts Center, and the Gammage Residency Artist at ASU Gammage in Tempe, AZ. He collaborates regularly with director Mallory Catlett and designer/performer Jim Findlay; the three created the participatory performance City Council Meeting in five US cities between 2011 and 2014. The performance consisted of audience members enacting transcripts of local government meetings from around the country; each city had a unique ending in which real-life political adversaries performed a scripted scene that had been written in response to a hot-button local issue. Landsman is currently developing several new projects, including Perfect City, commissioned by Crossing The Line and created with Lower East Side young adults.

We want to to place you in the gap between the world you live in and the world we make.

Odyssey Works: What are you trying to do with your work? 

Aaron Landsman: I don't know that I have a clear mission, except to create a space that illuminates the value of misfits and the nascent creativity of cities. I don't know that I start out making any given project in order to do that, but that's so often where things lead—whether it's a play, or something more conceptual like City Council Meeting—that I'm going to stick with it. Or it's going to stick with me. 

OW: What led you to your current approach? Who are your influences, and within what traditions do you locate your work?  

AL: Beyond the artists I love and the collaborators I work with, I'd say that Erving Goffman and Jacques Rancière have been huge influences. I read Goffman's The Presentation Of Self In Everyday Life when I was in high school, and it satisfied a certain adolescent cynicism then. When we started working on City Council Meeting, I went back to it and found it really rewarding in a whole different way. If we are always performing ourselves, whether we know it or not, then everything we do is theatrical to some degree. Everything is fodder for art. And Rancière really articulates something about the gap that exists between a teacher and student, a work of art and its viewer, a political reality and the agents of change trying to move that reality somewhere different. Those two writers are who I go back to all the time when I'm trying to make something new. 

On a more pedestrian level, Mallory Catlett once said something when we started working together to the effect that she is more interested in communication than representation, and that's been super helpful to me as we have continued to collaborate. 

Swearing in during a  City Council Meeting  at LaGuardia Community College in New York City, May 2013. Credit David Brown and dabfoto creative.

Swearing in during a City Council Meeting at LaGuardia Community College in New York City, May 2013. Credit David Brown and dabfoto creative.

I feel really influenced by a whole host of artists in New York and elsewhere right now. Elevator Repair Service's process is really delightful, even if an endurance test sometimes. Ant Hampton is thinking about the political meaning of form in exciting ways. Daniel Alexander Jones is an artist with a phenomenal range of avant-garde approaches at his disposal. Jim Findlay is generally always the smartest guy in the room, so I always want to be around him, because it makes me look and feel good. Rimini Protokol is exciting in the range of their work and their idea of their subjects as "experts". Ron Vawter was a touchstone for acting seemingly tiny moments in an epic way, and the Wooster Group's idea of "putting a frame around the actors' lives" resonates with me in my own work. So—ensembles, sociologists, and expert misfits.

OW: What does it mean for you to call City Council Meeting “participatory”? Is this different from being “immersive” or “interactive”?

AL: I like this question. Mallory Catlett (the director/dramaturg who co-created City Council Meeting with me) and I thought a lot about this. First, we think you're "participating" in the piece even if you choose to simply watch. Meaning, seeing a show is participatory, to us, even if it's not interactive. Some nights I go to the theatre and I don't want to interact, I want to watch and participate imaginatively rather than verbally, or physically, for instance. This piece is about how you participate.

It also asks each audience member to reckon with a choice she makes at the beginning of the show, when we ask viewers to choose a way to engage with the piece: as Councilors, who take a very active role; as Speakers, who get a piece of testimony they may or may not be called on to speak in the piece; as Supporters, who get simple physical instructions; and as Bystanders, who simply watch. Sometimes the payoff of the piece is surprising for viewers. They think a lot about why they made a particular choice, and what the consequences of that have been.

We don't call it immersive because we don't want you to get too caught up in some kind of traditional-but-3D theatrical suspension of disbelief. The mental, imaginative gaps we want you to fill should always be present—between you and the person whose words you're reading, between your choice and the choices of the people next to you, between your city and the city whose transcripts we're hearing. I think of immersive work as sort of sweeping you away in its world, and we want to place you in the gap between the world you live in and the world we make.

And we don't say "interactive" because it's not quite accurate. Everything in the piece is pretty tightly scripted—you're reading the actual language of another person. Another viewer may read someone else's words back to you, but you're not really interacting in an improvisational way.

OW: What is the collaboration between artist and audience as you see it? Where is the art itself located? 

AL: I think the sweet spot is the decision a piece of art provokes you to make. And those decisions, for me, can just be decisions about how it made you feel. I am not so convinced that art is a great way to make social change on any sort of massive level, but I do think it can provoke feelings that lead you to think about your life differently, and perhaps then do something different out of that revelation. Some work is kind of blinding and insistent—it pounds a decision out of you (I'm thinking of the punk music I listened to a lot growing up). Other stuff creeps up on you weeks later. I think the art is located in the space between what the artist's efforts illuminate and the conception of yourself you came in with.

Giving testimony at a  City Council Meeting  at Redfern Arts Center in Keene, NH, October 2014. Credit Aaron Landsman.

Giving testimony at a City Council Meeting at Redfern Arts Center in Keene, NH, October 2014. Credit Aaron Landsman.

OW: What, for you, is the relationship between performance and reality? What is the role of theatre in effecting real-life change, and to what degree is politics already theatrical?

AL: I guess I think we're only not performing when we're asleep, or for flickers during meditation, or maybe during real intimacy, physical or emotional. So a performance of politics, a performance of theatre, a performance of a date, a performance of a job—those things are on a continuum. We might not rehearse our council meeting testimony or our promotion interview day-to-day, but we do prepare. And as an actor, I know that the best way to think about preparation is that it gets you closer to something truthful, rather than something canned or insincere. So acknowledging the levels on which we are very often performing ourselves in "real life" and on stage is not cynical for me. 

The process of making art is what can have the most political impact.

When we were making City Council Meeting, we pretty quickly got past any thoughts we had that this would be some kind of inspirational piece that would get people to take specific actions in their towns. Once we honed in on the act and investigation of participation itself, and the historical ideas of democracy (from Plato on up) that we were playing with, we found something more open-ended and less agitprop. We found that when we allowed people to "testify" about something they wanted to speak on—say, an issue that they cared a lot about—it wasn't very interesting. 

The corollary benefit of the piece turned out to be that a couple people in different cities decided to run for local offices after being part of our working group. That felt like a real-life political victory, because both of them represent marginalized communities to greater or lesser degrees.

I don't actually think theatre can predict its outcome on any broad level. I think you can have a really politically astute piece of work and it still won't necessarily change people's minds. I think if you help people imagine their world differently, and they walk out the door of your show and then see possibilities they hadn't seen before, that is both immeasurable and profound. 

I'm working on a new project now called Perfect City, and I'm trying to infuse it with the idea that the process of making art is what can have the most political impact. I'm working with young adults on the Lower East Side to make something about the way cities evolve. I want them to leave the process (which will take a couple years) with the sense that they have the language of access and power with which to enact change. If the piece we make is fanciful, obtuse, or even unsuccessful on some level, but my collaborators walk away feeling like they have more agency, I think that is more important than whether the piece reflects my own political desires—as long as the work is at least somewhat truthful and beautiful.

OW: What is your artistic process? What are the similarities and differences between the process of creating theatre and the political process?

AL: I just saw a student production of Elektra at Princeton, where I'm working now, and one of the things they got really right was the sense that Greek drama can be seen as a court case for its characters, with audience as jury. There's a tie-in to political life that Greek drama often carries with it. There is a sense that politics is performative, and that that is not always bad. Meaning, I think most of us associate politicians with phoniness and pretense. But in fact, how else are you going to craft an argument that is going to reach many people? You perform the part of yourself you think will connect with others, and convince them to come over to your side, to let you represent them.

And, ideally, that's what making theatre is, on a good day. You strip away everything but what's essential, until you get to a message or a feeling that is burnished enough that it's impossible to ignore.

But also, really? The artistic process, at least when making performances, is basically a series of failures combined with a series of deadlines. And the discoveries get made by embracing the tension between those two things. 

...................

Interview by Ana Freeman

Stacy Muszinsky on the effects of an Odyssey

Stacy Muszinsky

Stacy Muszinsky

 

This week we interviewed Stacy Muszinsky, who was a participant in the Odyssey Works 2007 production The Moveable Feast in Austin, TX.

 

Odyssey Works: What was it like to bleed the boundaries of your real life with that of the performance?

Stacy Muszinsky: Surreal and moving and rather frightening and ecstatic and cathartic and unforgettable.

OW: HOW WAS YOUR LIFE CHANGED AFTER YOUR ODYSSEY? HOW DID THE ODYSSEY AFFECT YOUR LIFE?

SM: The Odyssey itself was a wild and strange catalyst, bleeding between performance and reality. I remember having to focus on breathing sometimes, looking at my hands, to calm myself, to ground myself, to feel private and not blown apart, wide open for the world. That said, the whole of it was exhilarating and unhinging. I was dazed for some time immediately after Odyssey, unsure what was real and what was performance, as if the piece continued into life. I felt alternately giddy and sad. Odyssey injected a sense of serious play in my life. I birthed a child three years ago; the experience isn't unlike my Odyssey -- a cosmic joke -- a strange and surreal experience guided by what I can't say toward what end I'm not exactly sure. Same wild, scary, beautiful ride that I am one thankful mother to be on.

The Odyssey inhabited me utterly....I felt an intricate fabric in the weave of the entire experience while, in the same instant, feeling as if I were unraveling...

OW: Most performances ask that you sit and watch. Odyssey Works requires you to engage fully. How did that requirement change your experience of the performance and did it continue to affect you afterward?

SM: The Odyssey inhabited me utterly. I had no idea from moment to moment what to expect, would happen, how I would behave. Everything was of the moment. I felt safe and unsafe in the same instant. I felt an intricate fabric in the weave of the entire experience while, in the same instant, feeling as if I were unraveling, unraveled, naked.

Perhaps I said something good and useful in the recap video after the performance when I was sitting next to Doug. I remember getting weepy again when I talked about it. 

When the climax of the performance hit, I fell completely apart -- or together. I mean, I cry at any good climax -- story or sex -- but this one... I was wracked by the connection, the letting go, the release. I could not stop crying. Weeping, actually. Not the same style of weeping I did when I learned my mother unexpectedly died, but the weeping I expect I'll do when I meet her again at the end of my life. It was a catharsis so deep, so mind-body-spirit connected, I felt intercellularly stoned for weeks. I felt integrated, and I felt connected to every damn thing and every damn one. So right now.

I felt absolutely yes. Clear. Unafraid. Real.

OW: THIS ODYSSEY ENTAILED A GREAT DEAL OF RESEARCH INTO YOUR LIFE. HOW DID IT FEEL TO BE SEEN IN THIS INTIMATE WAY?

SM: Amazing and scary and open and real.

OW: What was most meaningful thing for you during your Odyssey?

SM: Years ago I may have said the most important thing about my Odyssey was sharing it with the others who were on the Odyssey with me.  I would have added: Feeling myself breaking down and re-integrating throughout the experience. I would have said experiencing the catharsis of the finale. Being given my life and identity back upon the death of my imposter, all the imposters -- feeling the grace and honesty and weight of that moment, that truth. Feeling, then, at one with everything stitched into that moment -- the sun in sky, the dark-haired actor running up the crushed stone pathway in his flowing white pants and shirt, the cello music, the loved ones gathered around us in that tiny gazebo in the middle of nowhere.

Today, I'd say all that. And: that it happened at all.That it happens at all. It was a gift. It is a gift.

Did I mention painful? It was so beautiful it hurt. Or it hurt so much it was beautiful. I can't parse or separate the two really. It all just really undid me.  

OW: Based on this experience, what would you say is the benefit of mixing reality and performance?

SM: Art. Life. Art. Life. It's so impossibly weird and, let me stop crying for a second... so terribly good. Thank you.

Dare Turner on Art, Presence, and Gratitude

An image from OW 2014: The Dariad. Photo by Sasha Wizansky

An image from OW 2014: The Dariad. Photo by Sasha Wizansky

What’s the longest time you have ever spent with a single piece of art?

When I visit museums, I often find myself spending an hour or more with just one piece of art. In my experience, it takes that long to really see it.

Looking at an artwork is a time-based experience; at first glance, it might come off as unassuming and quiet. After ten minutes, you start to notice things you didn’t before—new textures emerge, details become sharper, and colors become more vibrant. By thirty minutes, a piece has started to break through your shell and share its world with you. After an hour, you aren’t looking at the piece anymore; it is looking at you.

Being present, with an artwork no less, is a challenging feat in our modern world. But this is what artworks invite; this is the space they make in our lives, a space for presence. I am incredibly grateful for this.

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I find myself reflecting on the many things that I am thankful for this year. 2015 has been a truly transformative year, due in no small part to my work with Odyssey Works. The group’s long-duration artworks have changed my perspective on the potential of art. Now I see so many possibilities that weren’t apparent to me before.

 At the end of 2014, I received an incredible gift from the Odyssey Work crew: a surprise Odyssey. “The Dariad,” coordinated by Abraham Burickson and my dear friends in San Francisco, offered me the perfect avenue to explore ideas about art that I had been toying with for several years.

Outside of Odyssey Works, I'm a Medievalist, which means that I've spent the past several years studying centuries-old art and ways of seeing that art. The medieval way of seeing is both astounding and incredibly relevant even today. The Middle Ages have gotten a bad rap, going down in history as some sort of backwards-era that offers us nothing more than ugly pictures of baby Jesus. But the art of the period was about so much more than that.

Art from the Middle Ages is all about being present. You can’t see or experience the artwork if you aren’t really there. Medieval art requires patience, longing, and the viewer’s full-bodied participation.

In this way, medieval art theory speaks to and reveals new facets of modern performance artworks, such as that of Odyssey Works.

During the climactic scene of the Dariad, I met a group of around fifty wearing black outside of the De Young Museum in San Francisco. They had gathered for an unconventional tour of the museum, in which we would only view three pieces of art, but spend anywhere from 15-30 minutes with each individual piece.

As we stood in front of a modern-take on an aboriginal sculpture, and a large video installation by David Hockney, I was struck by the medieval-ness of the gathering. By standing in front of a single piece of art for a rather uncomfortable length of time, we had to honestly confront our feelings about a piece, and learn patience.

By engaging with the artworks for minutes, instead of mere seconds, we gave them the chance to look back at us.

During the Dariad, the final artwork that we viewed together as a group was Cornelia Parker’s Anti-Mass. This massive mobile-like piece consists of fragments of a former Baptist Church that had been destroyed by arsonists. The shards of wood are suspended in mid-air, offering a vision of extreme violence and a venue for quiet meditation in the same breath.

Standing in front of this artwork with fifty some people for thirty minutes was a surreal experience. I walked up close to the piece, sat on the bench in front of it, stood at the back of the gallery and waited for the piece to penetrate through my shell—the buffer that protects me, but also separates me from the rest of the world.

Minute by minute, I felt that protective layer dissolve. As every second wore on, I became more present.Anti-Mass crept deeper into my subconscious and altered my understanding of the world. Eventually, I watched my “self” melt away—I became a part of a collective consciousness in that room, communing with art.

Believe it or not, this communal experience is very medieval in its nature. The idea of the “I” emerged with the Renaissance, but the Middle Ages, on the other hand, demanded that egocentric I be subordinated to the collective we. This way of thinking about things may have been mostly lost to time, but in front of Cornelia Parker's work it was entirely accessible. This is the power of art. It transcends time and place; its message can permeate generations and outlast the lifespan of the artist who created it.

It is impossible to experience this and not be grateful.

The Dariad was just one transformative event that Odyssey Works offered me in the last year. Throughout 2015, I have been the acting Public Image Engineer for the group, which has allowed me to explore my creativity on a deeper level and be a key player in running the Kickstarter.

2015 has brought many blessings to the group, most important of which is the incredible outpouring of support that has come through our Kickstarter campaign. Even after months of planning and promoting, I find myself surprised by the fact that over 350 people have donated to the campaign, and that we met our goal after only 15 days!

Both of these wonderful gifts—the Dariad and the success of our Kickstarter—have demanded something important of me: to be present. To actually see the world and not take it for granted. To savor every moment with (or without) art. And to offer gratitude to a world that has blessed me so.

This Thanksgiving, I give thanks to all of you—the Odyssey Works supporters and volunteers that have worked to transform my life and the lives of other art enthusiasts for the better. Though our work might be small in scale, it’s monumental in its effects.

Thank you for making the world a more beautiful place.

Sasha Wizansky on what it's like to receive an Odyssey

Have you ever wondered what it's like to be a participant in an odyssey works piece? This week we're pleased to introduce you to Sasha Wizansky, the recipient of an Odyssey in 2009. Since then we have had the great fortune to work with her as a designer on many an Odyssey Works project, including our Borges & Calvino forgeries, not to mention the design concepts for our forthcoming book. 

Sasha Wizansky

Sasha Wizansky

Sasha Wizansky is an art director, graphic designer, and bookbinder, and holds an MFA in sculpture. Sasha co-founded Meatpaper, an award-winning, internationally distributed quarterly journal of art and ideas about meat, in 2007, and was Editor-in-chief and Art Director until the last issue came out in fall, 2013. Meatpaper’s mission was to create a non-dogmatic forum in which to explore the ethics, aesthetics, and cultural significance of meat. 

 

Odyssey Works: What was it like to bleed the boundaries of your real life with that of the performance?

Sasha Wizansky: In August, 2009, I was having a glass of wine with two friends at a home in Brooklyn when a stranger in an overcoat appeared in front of me and handed me a small box full of sage leaves. It was a full week before I thought the Odyssey would begin in San Francisco. He turned and walked away, as quickly as he’d come. My companions refused to acknowledge that anyone had been in the apartment. This was a true surprise, and well-played by my friends. Their silence showed me that this was an experience for me alone and that nobody else would be able to experience as I would. It felt big, special, mysterious, enchanted. My heart was pounding. After that point, I experienced my life in a heightened way. My senses were sharpened. It felt that anything could be a sign, or could be art. Any human interaction could be significant.

OW: This Odyssey entailed a great deal of research into your life. How did it feel to be seen in this intimate way?

SW: Something about the experience of filling out the application questionnaire in very personal terms opened me up for the intimacy of the Odyssey. I willingly engaged with Odyssey Works intimately with my answers to the questions. And Odyssey Works, in turn, continued the conversation before, during, and after the Odyssey. They are still asking me personal questions, and I am still answering them. I don’t think my Odyssey would have been as meaningful if it hadn’t been built upon such a personal dialogue.

A scene from Sasha Wizansky's Odyssey in 2009.

A scene from Sasha Wizansky's Odyssey in 2009.

OW: How was your life changed after your Odyssey? How did the Odyssey affect your life?

SW: This is a bit difficult to pinpoint as the change was subtle and changed over time. I think the Odyssey made me realize how lucky I am. To be gifted an experience of such richness and magnitude is truly remarkable. Very few people have experienced a gift like this. I learned that anything can be art, can be mesmerizing, and can be transformative if properly framed and granted sufficient attention. After the Odyssey I felt cracked open, vulnerable and accessible, open to experience and human connection. I found that telling the story of my Odyssey to friends and acquaintances taught them about the capacity people have to care for one another and inspire one another. The feelings I had weren’t akin to those I feel after seeing a great film or a great play; I had a deeper sense of having experienced something large. As if I’d climbed a mountain, or as if I’d produced the play or a film.

After the Odyssey I felt cracked open, vulnerable and accessible, open to experience and human connection.

OW: Most performances ask that you sit and watch. Odyssey Works requires you to engage fully. How did that requirement change your experience of the performance and did it continue to affect you afterward?

SW: I have never felt so alert or so present as I did on the day of my Odyssey. That day, my car and purse and phone and keys and everything else were taken away from me one possession at a time. At one point I was cast into the city with nothing but an index card and bus fare. There was something profound about having only my body, the clothes on my back, and my perception to guide me. There was nothing to distract me, nothing to hide behind. I was part of the fabric of the city, permeable to everything happening around me, ready to engage with anything, ready to be taken by surprise. During the Odyssey I never felt like an audience member. With nothing to mediate my experience — no cell phone or camera or even pen and paper, I became more engaged with the world and with my senses. I should do this every week. We should all send our friends and family members on small odysseys weekly to inspire them to commune with their unmediated, mindful selves.

A scene from Sasha Wizansky's Odyssey in 2009

A scene from Sasha Wizansky's Odyssey in 2009

OW: What was most meaningful thing for you during your Odyssey?

SW: Throughout the day, there were many astonishingly beautiful moments. When I entered the San Francisco Main Library and saw that it had been subtly transformed into a scene from the ’80s film, “Wings of Desire,” with actors in overcoats on every floor, I am pretty sure I gasped with wonder. But another moment touched me quite deeply. The angel with the feathery wings who had been guiding me greeted me by the tent where I was to sleep that night. She hadn’t spoken all day, but this time she told me aloud that she would be in the field, just on the other side of the fence from my tent, all night, in case I needed her. It was remarkable to feel watched over, not just because she had wings. I suddenly understood that the whole Odyssey experience wasn’t just aesthetic or intellectual — it was also personal. It was about love. There was an angel in a field outside my tent making sure I was ok in the night. It is a fundamental need of humans to feel safe, to feel cared for. Though this might have been a simple element in the narrative of the weekend, it affected me deeply and added warmth to the way I thought about the whole experience.

OW: Based on this experience, what would you say is the benefit of mixing reality and performance?

SW: All around me I see people stuck in cycles of habitual behavior. After walking down the same street every day, we cease to see it. After speaking to the same people every day, we cease to regard them in all their dimensions. After engaging in the same tasks every day, we lose awareness of what we are doing. I think the epidemic of smartphone addiction has exacerbated the human tendency to tune out. When we enter a designated performance space, we similarly approach the experience in our habitual performance-attending mode. But when reality and performance are mixed, our definitions of art are widened and cycles of habit are broken. New pathways of sensory and intellectual experience can be found. I think most people could benefit from questioning their habits of perception. Relationships can be deepened, senses can be heightened, experiences can be made richer. Just answering these questions has provided a well-needed reminder to slow down and pay attention.

CONEY ON THE AUDIENCE AND PLAY

Tassos Stevens, Director of Coney

Tassos Stevens, Director of Coney

TASSOS STEVENS IS THE DIRECTOR OF CONEY (@AGENCYOFCONEY), which weaves together theatre and game design to create dynamic shows and experiences that can take place anywhere that people gather. HE’S CO-MADE WORK FOR CONEY INCLUDING ADVENTURE 1, A SMALL TOWN ANYWHERE,THE LOVELINESS PRINCIPLE, A CAT ESCAPES, AND THE BAFTA-WINNING NIGHTMARE HIGH, WEARING HATS INCLUDING DIRECTOR, WRITER, INTERACTION AND PARTICIPATION DESIGNER. he sometimes makes solo work including Jimmy Stewart and Solo Two.

 

ODYSSEY WORKS: How do you understand immersivity and interactivity? How does it work and what is the point?

Tassos Stevens: These are often misunderstood words. Immersive for me simply means that the audience is in the world of the play, somehow. Sometimes the world of the play is also the real world, with a little bit of fiction stitched in, in a piece like Adventure 1. Sometimes it is a world we’ve constructed in a theatre, but still resonant with reality, like A Small Town Anywhere.

I also like to describe the work as being where an audience can take a meaningful part, or play, if they choose. There may be actions that an audience member can take that help them make believe that they are in the world of the play. There may be actions that an audience member can make which have influence on their experience or the outcome of their experience, somehow. They may feel they have agency in this world.

Interaction hangs over all of these actions and agency, it’s less well-defined for me. The model of the work - the structures for immersion, play, action, interaction - this all carries meaning. It’s important to choose the model that resonates best with what the play is about. The point is to make work which has an impact on a playing audience, and which leaves them with a good story to tell.

OW: Why create experiences?

TS: Because it’s an ever-fascinating challenge, and because I am continually surprised and delighted by the beautiful, joyous, lovely things which playing audiences will do in response. Why not?

OW: What are you trying to do with your work?

TS: Make the world a slightly better and lovelier place. Make a space where people can do sometimes extraordinary things. Work out how to keep learning, and how to stay open.

OW: We love that you say "The experience starts when you first hear about it, and only ends when you stop thinking and talking about it." What is the collaboration between artist and audience as you see it? Where is the artwork itself located?

TS: The artist is like a host to their guests, the audience. The artist builds the space - metaphorically speaking - in which the play will happen. They set as a framework some structures and guidelines for play. They may facilitate a particular culture, an ethos for engagement. They may have something they wish to say that will start a conversation with the audience. They may create a world of the play. And then they welcome the audience in, guide them to get going, and then respond to whatever they choose to do.

I don’t know that I am bothered by where the artwork is located. It’s hard to pin down, it’s everywhere - in the dialogue and play between the audience and the work itself, in the construction of the world and structures of play, in the resonance between the world of the play and the real world, in the impact on the audience immediately and their reflection afterwards, and what remains even years down the line.

The point is to make work which has an impact on a playing audience, and which leaves them with a good story to tell.

W: How does your art practice influence your life?

TS: In ways which are continually surprising and complex. They’re quite intertwined, inevitably. I’m inspired by people and ideas that I meet. I think most potently that I see the world around me and people, strangers especially, in a very different way from before when I got involved in the work around the principle of loveliness. Take the art out of it - which I am quite happy to do - and I find myself with a set of tools for helping design better experiences and potential for participation, and it’s sometimes interesting to apply those. For instance, I found myself frustrated at my own lack of agency in the recent general election in the UK and the mostly shit quality of conversations about politics I was having. So I used #agoodquestion to help facilitate better conversations about politics, and promptly found the quality of my discussions greatly improved.

OW: What led you to your current approach to art-making? (What led you to start breaking traditional molds?)

TS: I did a doctorate in experimental psychology and I think that rubbed off into my practice, making me genuinely an experimentalist: what happens if we do this…? For a while I even called myself a theatre scientist. I was always more interested in other work that was genuinely experimental, hanging out in the scene around places in London like Battersea Arts Centre and the Shunt Vaults. I ran a venue myself for a while supporting a host of experimental artists, and mostly only had time to try out small experiments for my own practice. These endless experiments eventually helped me realize the scope of the form. And then one thing led to another, and eventually I got a phone call from Rabbit.

But then I could tell this story another way, around a lot of experience teaching young people. Or doing all different kinds of research and weird jobs meeting people in different ways. Everything you’ve done leads you to where you are now. Although I only started to be able to draw it together into a story which made sense for me a couple of years ago.